Anxiety Post

The Panic Station , 28 September 2018

My Psychotherapist Check List

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I’ve seen some completely hideous mental health professionals over the years. There was a counsellor who told me to breathe and exercise away my panic (helpful), a psychiatrist who got off with a handful of his patients, one who spent much of our sessions talking about his lovely holidays in Brazil, and another who seemed to think filling out forms constituted great analysis.

But still I persevered, offering my emotional wounds to strangers sworn to secrecy quite simply because I didn’t have another recourse; when in the eye of great anxiety, releasing torrents of words always helped to release the pressure, and I found relief even in the worst psychiatrists and psychoanalysts.

Please don’t let that preamble put you off if you’re considering seeing someone for help. In fact, I’d like you to interpret it as the opposite – talking can be a tonic even if you don’t particularly gel with your therapist, and the very act of saying things in a safe space can sometimes offer a clarity that you can’t reach alone in your head.

That said, if you do happen to find that special someone, it can be life-altering. Thankfully, three years ago, I found one such therapist, someone who is both compassionate and insightful, who has helped me to understand why I carried around vast pools of anxiety and who has helped me to unearth the root causes and then put to bed some of the issues stemming from earlier years in my life.

For complete transparency while maintaining some boundaries, I would prefer not to share their name, though I will say that they – and many great therapists – work on both the NHS and privately (I have taken the latter route as I can just about afford it because my psychiatry is my main expense outside of bills, but I have of course had to budget in other areas to accommodate the price of my sessions).

There are no hard and fast rules to finding help, though I thought it might be useful for me to document some of the things I’ve experienced and some of the rules, as it were, I’ve pulled together as a means to helping you if you’ve started seeing someone and aren’t sure if they’re the right fit.

Please note that these are of course based entirely on my subjective experiences so do correct me/chime in if you have found something to the contrary, and of course pop any questions or comments either below or, if you don’t feel comfortable writing there, do e-mail me.

– Good psychoanalysts will look for a root cause – but won’t dwell on it, instead helping you to unpick the effect it’s had later on. That latter bit is really the thing that’s important. It’s very easy to say ‘your mum didn’t cuddle you enough’ or whatever, but that just leaves you with raked up emotions. Instead, find someone who can help you to identify where something started, and then help you to work through it. I should also add that I’ve personally found CBT great in the short term, but without addressing where the issue came from, it acted like a plaster to me – helpful, yes, but the festering wounds still remained and needed something deeper to heal them.

– They should never frame you in a certain light. This is another one that I’ve found bad psychiatrists fall foul of – it’s not their job to tell you about your life or to suggest how you might have felt/feel, but rather to steer you towards greater understanding of your experiences. A good psychoanalyst or psychiatrist won’t be assumptive, they’ll only direct you if needed by asking pointed questions.

– They will never tell you what to do. It’s your life – they’re there to help you to find clarity and peace with yourself. You will only find these things when they come from you and your core self. Nobody can tell you how to find that, they can merely open up conduits to it.

– They’ll adjust their methods to suit you. I’ve been told to take anti-anxiety medication countless times in my life, but I’ve always refused because I have an inherent fear of playing with my body’s chemistry and because my emetophobia means that I am nervous about taking anything which might have side effects. Good psychiatrists have let me be and have instead tried to address my concerns in other ways. Equally, you may vitally need and be happy to take medication, in which case it should absolutely be prescribed. In both cases, you should expect to be treated with humanity and made to feel empowered in your decision.

– They will observe firm boundaries. It is wholly inappropriate for a psychiatrist to offer up information about their lives unless it serves a purpose in the context of your discussion, or to delve into areas of yours you haven’t chosen to explore (unless with good reason, and approached with sensitivity). Side note: it is for this reason that I’m often appalled at the way psychiatrists are represented in films because so many of them step outside what’s ethical and are applauded for it because it works in the film. In reality, transcending boundaries can be very damaging.

– They’ll give you the tools to manage your own mental health. Good therapists don’t form co-dependent relationships – they teach you how to come up with a set of rules and behaviours that inform and preserve mental health. Mine, for example, has taught me the value of ‘lifespan integration’, whereby you pick a troubling behaviour or memory, trace it back to the first memory of it, the write a list of all the times you’ve felt similarly. It’s illuminating and has helped me immensely.

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